President Xi Jinping’s close ally Li Qiang appointed as China’s new premier tasked with reviving a COVID battered economy

Li Qiang, a close confidant of President Xi Jinping has been appointed as China’s premier replacing Li Keqiang who is retiring after serving two five-year terms. Chinese President Xi signed a presidential order to appoint Li Qiang, 63, as premier Saturday at the ongoing session of the 14th National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s annual rubber-stamp legislature.

As the country’s second-in-command, Li – the former party chief of Shanghai – will be in charge of reviving an economy battered by stringent COVID-19 controls and restoring market confidence. China’s economy grew by just 3 per cent in 2022, among the slowest rates of growth in decades and well short of the official 5.5 per cent target, largely due to COVID-19 lockdowns and a real estate downturn.

He was at the helm during Shanghai’s chaotic two-month COVID-19 lockdown last year and faced heavy criticism for food shortages and mismanagement. To his credit, he was able to bring Tesla to the financial capital to build an electric vehicle plant.

Li, who has no experience working with the central government, will lead the State Council, the country’s cabinet, along with a new team of top officials to be confirmed before the NPC concludes on Monday. Li Qiang will also hold his first press conference as premier on Monday which will be closely watched to understand his thinking on matters related to China’s economy as it is struggling with weak demand, demographic challenges and technological bottlenecks and sanctions by the west.

Li was elevated to the Communist Party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee at the 20th Party congress in October when President Xi secured an unprecedented third term and possibly a rule for life with a pack of loyalists in the inner circle of decision making.

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